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Erica Shepherd leads Duke women's golf to 3rd place in opening tournament

Sophomore Erica Shepherd finished third overall individually.
Sophomore Erica Shepherd finished third overall individually.

For Duke women’s golf, expectations are sky high in just about every event the program tees it up in, and the Palmetto Spring Intercollegiate was no different.

The 22nd-ranked Blue Devils began their journey toward an attempt at an unconventional national title repeat this past Sunday through Monday in Kiawah Island, S.C. With No. 4 Wake Forest and No. 10 Virginia, the two teams that will most likely go toe-for-toe with the Blue Devils for ACC superiority, in the field, it was sure to be a worthy barometer test for how Duke is adjusting to life without Ana Belac, Hannah O’Sullivan and Miranda Wang. 

A quick glance at the final results would have led you to believe that a third-place team finish was a step in the right direction to start the season. While you would have a point, there’s still no doubt that the Blue Devils have a way to go before they reach the level that will be necessary to make some noise in April and May, with Duke finishing behind both the Demon Deacons and Cavaliers.

“I think I saw a lot of really good stuff, parts of games that were doing really well—it just wasn't packaged up in the complete package,” head coach Dan Brooks said. “I mean, we'd have some good putting but then we'd have not great striking, and it looked like your first tournament of the whole season.”

Erica Shepherd paced Duke with rounds of 71, 75 and 73 at Turtle Point Golf Course, despite the fact that she recorded a quadruple-bogey eight on her final hole of the second round. The Indiana native ended up in third place at three-over par behind Wake Forests' Rachel Kuehn and Lauren Walsh.

The most impressive part of Shepherd’s performance had nothing to do with her scorecard, though, but the fact that she was not at full strength due to a recent knee surgery. That inability to swing freely affected her off the tee at Kiawah Island, but the sophomore is working her way towards her A-game. 

“She wasn't able to completely go after it.... [Today was] the first time she's been able to really go after a driver ever since she got the operation," Brooks said Thursday. "So the sky's the limit for her because she's done great swing work, she’s a really hard worker, very motivated and just plays with a lot of passion.”

Going into the tournament, one area of intrigue was how the Blue Devil freshmen would perform. Promising would be a suitable answer to that question, with Anne Chen and Phoebe Brinker finishing in a tie for 14th and a tie for 35th, respectively, in their collegiate debuts. Both players fared well at various points during the windy final round Monday, as Chen hit 15-of-18 greens and Brinker parred seven of her final nine holes. 

“I thought they handled their first tournament really well,” Brooks said of the freshmen. “I think they probably had some nerves going into it, but they weren't too overwhelmed by the thing. I think their teammates helped them be comfortable. We didn't have any competition in the fall, so this was literally the first one for them as Blue Devils.”

With all this talk about freshmen and sophomores, what about the team's upperclassmen? 

Well, after struggling over the first 36 holes, junior Gina Kim bounced back to post 72 in the final round to rise up the leaderboard into a tie for 18th. Kim was rock solid in the challenging conditions Monday, finishing with 10 straight pars. 

The Blue Devils don't get too long of a break, as they make their way to the Palmetto State once again for the Gamecock Intercollegiate March 1-3. That will mark the final event Duke competes in without star senior Jaravee Boonchant, who's been back home in Thailand since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the spring season last March but is set to return to Durham this upcoming March 2.


Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.

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